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September 14, 2006
You Could Look It Up
No Hitters Ain't That Special, Part Two
Continuing our look at no-hitters by decade. We're working off the thesis (like you would work off a case of Devil Dogs hastily consumed after breaking up with your girlfriend just before the prom) that the recent gap between no-hitters, interrupted by Florida's Anibal "Lee" Sanchez is not historically significant, and that no-hitters are random events triggered as much by good defense and a few lucky bounces as the skill of the pitcher involved. For a fuller explanation, see last week's YCLIU.
Most obscure pitcher to throw a no-hitter during the decade: Edward Marvin Head-"Ed Head." A career Dodger, the swingman no-hit the Boston Braves on April 23, 1946. As with several other pitchers of no-hitters, he was in his last major league season. The Louisiana native was 28 years old when he gave his right arm for baseball.
Bill McCahan of the A's, who no-hit the Washington Senators on September 3, 1947, is another good choice. From 1947 to 1949 the A's had a last gasp revival. After posting annual .350 winning percentages and generally finishing last in an eight-team league every year from 1934 on (in 13 seasons they lost 100 or more games four times and 90 or more games seven times), they had three years of winning records before collapsing again and moving to Kansas City. Mack had come up with good hitters like Sam Chapman, Ferris Fain, Elmer Valo, Nellie Fox (thrown away in a trade for catcher Joe Tipton) and Eddie Joost. Pitching, however, was a bridge too far, so competing for the pennant remained a concept. McCahan's entry into the big leagues was delayed by World War II. He had a decent rookie year in 1947, posting a 3.33 ERA in a 3.70 league, albeit with a strikeout/walk ratio of .76, even worse than the league average of .98.
It will seem incongruous given that McCahan was only 5'11", but he made his off-season money by playing basketball. The A's didn't like that idea, so McCahan tried moving oil drums instead. That proved to be harder on his arm than dribbling, with the result that McCahan pitched only 57 big league games.
One of the best stories associated with any no-hitter concerns Reynolds' second, an 8-0 gem over the Red Sox in the first game of a September 28, 1951 doubleheader. With 26 outs in the book, Reynolds' had to retire Ted Williams to finish the game. Williams took a strike, then swung at the next pitch and hit a high, high popup behind the plate. Yankees catcher Yogi Berra went back, lined it upů and at the last second the wind pushed the ball just a bit to one side. Reynolds raced in as Berra began to stagger. As he fell, the ball hit the edge of his mitt and dropped to the ground. Reynolds was close enough to run over the prone Berra's hand but had no play on the ball.
Berra's wife Carmen was in the hospital about to give birth. Nurses heard a scream from her room. Rushing in, they found her listening to the game on the radio. "It's my husband," she said. "He dropped the ball."
Everyone resumed their places. Williams was actually angry, embarrassed to be put in the position of having to try to spoil the no-hitter again. He told Berra he would have to try even harder than before. Reynolds pitched, Williams swung: another pop-up behind the plate. Seemingly the entire team converged around it but this time Berra had it. Game over. After, Yankees co-owner Del Webb had the line of the day. "Yogi," he said, "when I die I hope they give me a second chance the way they did you."
There weren't too many mediocrities throwing no-hitters in the 1950s. Bob Feller had his last and Jim Bunning his first. Hoyt Wilhelm, Warren Spahn, and Mel Parnell did the deed. You would take those guys on your team--though Parnell pitched his in 1956, his last year in the majors after many seasons of being overworked by the Red Sox (Parnell is not much remembered today, but his 1949 was one of the best seasons by any pitcher of all time anywhere, with nearly 300 innings of a 2.78 ERA in a league in which the average pitcher was at 4.20. Adjust that for park and it gets even better).
Alva Lee "Bobo" Holloman is the joker in the deck. A 28-year-old rookie in 1953, he had the misfortune of coming up with a terrible (54-100) Browns team after being stuck in the Cubs system since the time of Cap Anson. Holloman started in the bullpen, but despite having some pitchers who had or would be successful (Don Larsen, Duane Pillette, Harry Brecheen, Satchel Paige, Virgil Trucks, Bob Turley, Max Lanier), the Browns had nothing better to do and gave Holloman a start on May 6, 1953. The rest was history. Holloman even drove in three runs in the game. The Browns cut him before the season was over.
However, as batting averages declined, a number of obscurities got into the no-hit biz as well. Don Nottebart of the Astros (then the Colt .45s, America's concealed handgun team) shut down a pretty good Phillies lineup (Tony Taylor, Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, and Wes Covington were the first four hitters in the order) on May 17, 1963. Nottebart, whose name can be rearranged to spell "Bent nob tarot," was basically a career reliever and swingman who logged some starting rotation time with a Houston club fresh off of a rigged expansion draft. Nottebart had one of the few no-hitters which aren't shutouts. In the fifth inning, Phillies first baseman reached second on an error by shortstop J.C. Hartman. Catcher Clay Dalrymple bunted him to third, and third baseman Don Hoak hit a sacrifice fly to drive him in. That tied the game at 1-1. The 45s didn't go ahead until the seventh.
Dave Morehead of the Red Sox reached the majors at 20 in 1963, a particularly low time for the franchise. The Sox hadn't been interesting since the early 1950s and wouldn't be again until 1967. Morehead threw a lot of pitches at a young age, striking out a lot of batters and walking almost as many. From 20 through age 22 he threw 535 innings, walking 324 and walking 438. The inevitable arm difficulties set in in 1966. It was still party time on September 16, 1965 when Morehead no-hit a decent Cleveland Indians lineup (Rocky Colavito and Leon Wagner were the big bats). He beat future Red Sox ace Luis Tiant in that contest. Morehead's own future was to be an expansion Kansas City Royal and end his big league career at age 27.
Finally, Ray Washburn of the Cardinals no-hit the Giants 2-0 at Candlestick Park on September 18, 1968. Washburn was an interesting 24-year-old rookie in 1962, but in 1963 he tore up his shoulder and didn't pitch well for a few years. He was very good for the pennant-winning 1968 Cards, putting up a 2.26 ERA in 215 innings. In his no-hitter, a Giants lineup that included Bobby Bonds, Ron Hunt, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Jim Ray Hart hit just two balls out of the infield. Shortstop Hal Lanier and McCovey were the slugging out-makers that da--assuredly the only time you will see the word "slugging" applied to Hal Lanier.
Washburn won Game Three of that year's World Series against the Detroit Tigers without pitching particularly well (three runs in 5.1 innings), but was hammered in Game Six. Already down 2-0 as the Tigers came to bat in the top of the third, Washburn allowed the first three batters to reach and was relieved. The Tigers went on to score ten runs in the inning.
Back with a third and final edition of no-hit trivia next time out.